Heather Swan

Position title: Senior Lecturer

Email: hsrosenthal@wisc.edu

6115 Helen C. White

Ecocriticism, environmental humanities, environmental justice, narratives of resilience, interdisciplinary collaboration, nonfiction writing, poetry, and insects, especially honeybees

Selected Publications:


In this world of waters,
the unleashed waters,

we wend our way
not heeding the beacons

while the snow geese wait
for ice that never arrives

and the swans move southward
but tarry. Who designed

our faulty compass?
We must stop now

and scrape the soil clear
of plastic shards and dead grass

and with our fingernails
etch a new map

born of bone, aware of our
kinship with ash,

crickets, with wrens.

  • Swan, Heather.“Where Honeybees Thrive.” 2018: n. pag. Print.

    Colony Collapse Disorder, ubiquitous pesticide use, industrial agriculture, habitat reduction—these are just a few of the issues causing unprecedented trauma in honeybee populations worldwide. In this artfully illustrated book, UW PhD alum Heather Swan embarks on a narrative voyage to discover solutions to—and understand the sources of—the plight of honeybees.

    Through a lyrical combination of creative nonfiction and visual imagery, Where Honeybees Thrive tells the stories of the beekeepers, farmers, artists, entomologists, ecologists, and other advocates working to stem the damage and reverse course for this critical pollinator. Using her own quest for understanding as a starting point, Swan highlights the innovative projects and strategies these groups employ. Her mosaic approach to engaging with the environment not only reveals the incredibly complex political ecology in which bees live—which includes human and nonhuman actors alike—but also suggests ways of comprehending and tackling a host of other conflicts between postindustrial society and the natural world. Each chapter closes with an illustrative full-color gallery of bee-related artwork.

    A luminous journey from the worlds of honey producers, urban farmers, and mead makers of the United States to those of beekeepers of Sichuan, China, and researchers in southern Africa, Where Honeybees Thrive traces the global web of efforts to secure a sustainable future for honeybees—and ourselves.

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  • Swan, Heather. A Kinship With Ash. Terrapin Books, 2020. Print.

    Heather Swan is a poet, nonfiction writer, and teacher. Her chapbook The Edge of Damage won the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Award. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Poet Lore, Cold Mountain Review, Phoebe, The Raleigh Review, and Midwestern Gothic. Her nonfiction has appeared in Aeon, Belt Magazine, Catapult, Edge Effects, ISLE, and Minding Nature. Her book Where Honeybees Thrive: Stories from the Field won the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award. She has been the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Poetry Fellowship Award, the Martha Meier Renk Fellowship, and the August Derleth Award for Poetry. She teaches writing and environmental literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she is also a beekeeper. A Kinship with Ash is her debut full-length collection.

    It’s difficult to accept that shadows, too, are products of the natural world. Often we hold what’s beautiful next to what we fear. As much as we want to appeal to our better angels, cruelty hovers and haunts our hearts. In Heather Swan’s A Kinship with Ash, wisdom is hard won. Elegant, image rich, and full of birdsong, these poems question and delight. But what is poetry if not the mind’s silhouette? In the pastoral tradition we confront our reflection, and here, Swan uses nature to look inward. As if negotiating the cliff’s edge, or wading into open water, her speakers are at the mercy of currents. We are left with faith. Reading these poems is an act of surveying light.

                —Amaud Jamaul Johnson